Guys, guys! We’re number two in the country! As Steve Alford said in his press conference, the men’s basketball team needs to focus on the next 120 minutes before moving onto conference play. I’d say the first 40 minutes went pretty well, with a 40 point trouncing of UCSB Wednesday night. Now, onto Ohio State in the CBS Sports Classic this weekend in Vegas. UCLA has won the last four games against Ohio State, including the last meeting on March 13, 1980 in Tucson, a 72-68 win for UCLA in the NCAA Regional Semifinals. The Buckeyes are coming off of their lowest season in head coach Thad Matta's tenure, which ended with a second-round NIT loss. When asked about moving on in the 2016 season, Matta told The Lantern back in October, “I think this team is going to be a team where guys are going to have roles,” he said. “And they’re going to have to embrace the role. They’re going to have to do their job every time they take the floor.” Unfortunately, they’ve still been inconsistent this season across the board, with losses to Florida Atlantic and a close one to then number six Virginia. There are a few bright spots, with an offense that is improving and players posting better statistics.
In a 64-60 victory over their last opponent, the UConn Huskies, senior forward Marc Loving became the 12th player in the Matta era to reach 1,000 points. He also hit the 100 mark for assists, while guard LaQuan Lyle made it to 500 points and 200 rebounds. Trevor Thompson is coming off a 17-point, 17-rebound game vs. the Huskies, and is just 13 points shy of 500 for his career. It was his best career game at Ohio State, and Thompson’s success this season might prove that the Buckeyes finally have a reliable big man. Averaging 11 points and just over eight rebounds per game off the bench so far, he seems to be the most improved player on the team from last season. Matta plays Thompson off the bench due to his tendency to rack up fouls quickly. Unfortunately, Thompson showed these same flashes of brilliance last year, but the success didn’t pan out. He looked like a future NBA star last year in their win against Kentucky, but that quality of play didn’t extend to the rest of the season. When Matta talked to Bleacher Report about Thompson’s success, he seemed to have a tempered reaction. "The focus ... he can drift sometimes," Matta said. "(It's about) keeping him dialed in”.
The Buckeyes have allowed opponents to score 37.9 percent of their attempts on the year (223-588), good for the number 25 spot in field goal percentage defense nationally. Ohio State also rates number 25 nationally in lowest opponent 2-point field goal percentage at 41% (142-341). The Buckeyes are comparing fairly well to their Big Ten opponents, with Lyle ranking third in the conference in assists, Jae’Sean Tate ranking fourth in field goal percentage (Tate is coming off of a second shoulder injury this season), and Thompson coming in at third for defensive rebounds. However, I don’t fear at all for the Bruin offense. I think Ohio State’s defensive statistics will take a beating this weekend.
We also can’t talk about Ohio State basketball without mentioning junior guard Kam Williams. He is averaging 30 minutes per game with some pretty amazing statistics. He is shooting 92% from the free throw line and 43% outside the arc. He averages 10 points per game and has a 42% field goal average. Not too shabby, I’d say. With the Bruins showing some weak spots on defense, this is definitely someone to watch. After last week’s three-point show the Bruins allowed in the first half against Michigan, we’ll need to make Williams feel uncomfortable shooting threes, and he is definitely someone we don’t want to foul. According to Jay Bilas, Williams is the heart and soul of OSU basketball and when he struggles, the team struggles.
A few hiccups aside, Ohio State has shown flashes of being a solid offensive team under the direction of assistant coach Chris Jent. The Buckeyes feature five players averaging in double figures, and have three decent players they can pull off the bench. This is a team that is going to take some time to develop offensively, and may prove themselves to be a better team down the stretch.
Make the trip to Vegas. You know you want to.